Afghanistan: No Direction Home
We went to Washington to help launch the Afghan American Women's Association established in honor of a lifetime of humanitarian achievements by Sima Wali. We came away with a clear picture that the women of Afghanistan will continue to have a strong, clear and uncompromising voice in Washington. In listening to the women of this Afghan/American partnership two things were clear: 1. No matter what happens with American foreign policy, Afghan/American women are not going back to the depredations visited upon them by a political system maddened by greed and its dreams of conquest. 2. Afghan/American women will no longer be fooled by politicians who promise democracy and reconstruction but deliver warlordism and corruption.
Our visit was also a chance to update first hand what was new and different in the administration's AfPak policy from what had gone before. Washington has spent a lot of money in Afghanistan. American soldiers and civilians are dying there. October of this year has been the worst on record. But the debate, anchored as it is in Washington's needs and perceptions and not Afghanistan's, continues to circle the most critical issues without ever landing on solutions that might bring on a satisfactory close.
The U.S. has been at war in Afghanistan for eight years. But 9 months into the new administration Washington continues to plow along with a losing game plan and an absence of understanding about the nature of the war, how to end it, or even how to fight it.
The biggest part of the problem that Washington faces is Washington itself. It is now clearer than ever that Washington's current policy derives from a military agenda and not a civilian one. In fact it may now be impossible for Washington to return to a government orchestrated strategy of nation-building anywhere after thirty years of privatized foreign policy and military buildup that favored profit driven development schemes at the expense of civil society. An entire industry now exists to lobby against any efforts to reverse the trend, change the status quo or even to make private contractors accountable for the taxpayer money they receive. A new book by Allison Stanger, titled "One Nation Under Contract," outlines the dimensions of a problem where the private sector has become a "shadow government" operating outside the law with billions of federal dollars, but little to no accountability for how or where the money is spent.
At the Pentagon the problem runs even deeper. The national security state built up during the cold war was designed to protect the US and the west from a Soviet threat. The perceptions created to convey the illusions of strength and invulnerability became a substitute reality to which all others defaulted. Over time, "cold" war became a new normal, rarely challenged by that other normal called reality. But at its core, the new normal was an illusion, based on a phony war and supported by the communal belief that it was better than the cost and terror of a real war that would actually be fought and perhaps lost.
The post cold war national security state on which America's approach to Afghanistan is based never returned to reality once the cold war was over. In fact, the illusion had so enraptured those in power; they could neither foresee the collapse of the Soviet Union nor accept its demise. But Washington's blind faith in the new normal disguised its flawed character and as the Clinton and Bush administrations built upon its illusory strength, the stage was set for failure.
That failure has finally occurred in Afghanistan and the consequences will be devastating yet Washington continues along in a dreamlike haze, narrowing the argument to simplistic Vietnam era clichés while the world moves on without it. According to well informed sources, the administration has pushed Hamid Karzai for the run-off election in the belief that it will legitimize his rule in order that General McChrystal can get his troops to go on fighting. What this ignores is that a corrupt, incompetent government stacked with Tajik warlords is abhorrent to everyone in Afghanistan - Pashtun and Tajik alike.
Washington's current policy may lead to outright civil war between the majority Pashtun population and the remnants of the so-called Northern Alliance of Tajik, Hazara and Uzbek tribes. Whether this is intended as an intentional prelude to partitioning Afghanistan and redrawing the map of Central Asia remains to be seen. But whatever the end result of Washington's apparent confusion over policy in Afghanistan, it will have little success until the Afghan people and the population of Pakistan's Western territories are brought politically into the decision making. Empowering the people of the region to seek positive change would disempower the Taliban and change the game. President Obama still has the credibility to do that, but his window of opportunity is closing fast.
Paul Fitzgerald and Elizabeth Gould, a husband and wife team, began their experience in Afghanistan when they were the first American journalists to acquire permission to enter behind Soviet lines in 1981 for CBS News and produced a documentary, Afghanistan Between Three Worlds, for PBS. In 1983 they returned to Kabul with Harvard Negotiation project director Roger Fisher for ABC Nightline and contributed to the MacNeil/Lehrer News Hour. They continued to research, write and lecture about the long-term run-up that led to the US invasion of Afghanistan. They are featured in an award winning documentary by Samira Goetschel. Titled, Our own Private Bin Laden which traces the creation of the Osama bin Laden mythology in Afghanistan and how that mythology has been used to maintain the "war on terror" approach of the Bush administration.Their three-decade focus on Afghanistan is chronicled in Invisible History: Afghanistan's Untold Story published by City Lights Books, www.citylights.com.